Writer/Director: Alan Ayckbourn
Reviewer: Bill Avenell
In an interview in the program notes of Time of my Life Alan Ayckbourn comments that this play “couldn’t work if it was set in Surrey”. That may or may not be true but it certainly worked last night when performed in Surrey, and right in the County Town to boot.
But this is not a fun packed Ayckbourn play. the subject matter, though presented with the author’s customary wit and cleverness, is actually rather depressing. It centres on three relationships within the Stratton family; owners of a norther business house. The action links to the difficulties of the relationships between husband and wife and those between the two sons of the family and their own partners, to a specific moment in the history of the family, the so called Time of my Life.
Ayckbourn’s ingenious idea is to view these relationships in three different ways, one through the past, one through the present and one through the future, all of which are set in the same restaurant. In order to achieve this, Jan Bee Brown’s design is an atmospheric set based around a ‘top’ table and two sub table, each of which becomes the focus of the play at different times through the use of Tigger Johnson’s lighting plot, an arrangement that helps to keep the play moving at a lively pace.
The subject matter may be rather depressing at times but there is much good acting by the whole cast. Again in the program notes Ayckbourn refers to the fact that in the play he has written some ‘very nice parts for men’, but it is the women who stand out in this production. Sarah Parks as Laura, the matriarch of the family, displays a fine balance of dominance tinged with regret; Emily Pithon as the daughter in law Stephanie does an excellent job of transforming the dowdy put-upon wife into the confident mistress of her own affairs; Rachel Caffrey as Maureen, the girl friend from the wrong side of the tracks, creates the most sympathetic character of all with an intriguing mixture of innocence and level-headedness. The one negative in this area is the fact that one way in which Ayckbourn links the scenes together is by using a single actor for the rôles of the different waiters but Ben Porter plays them rather as pantomime characters and this representations grates with the portrayals of the rest of the cast.
It is not a light-hearted evening although there are some very witty lines and some good jokes which the slightly disappointing house enjoyed greatly. But if your taste is for the more serious side of Ayckbourn they you will enjoy this production at the Yvonne Arnaud.
Time of my Life runs at Guildford until Saturday 1st February